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Cele: Govt doesn't want to criminalise citizens who broke lockdown rules

Police Minister Bheki Cele said that it was worrying that almost 300,000 people were arrested for contravening the Disaster Management Act during lockdown.

Police Minister Bheki Cele releases the first quarter crime statistics for 2020/2021 at a media briefing on 14 August 2020. Picture: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG - Police Minister Bheki Cele said that it was worrying that almost 300,000 people were arrested for contravening the Disaster Management Act during lockdown.

Cele said that this meant that people who appeared in court came out with criminal records.

The minister, releasing the crime statistics for the first quarter of 2020/2021, also announced that all major crimes decreased during lockdown compared to same time last year.

The crime stats cover the period when South Africa was placed under level 5, 4, and 3 of the national lockdown, compared to the same period between April and June in 2019.

Minister Cele said that government did not want to criminalise South Africans because they broke lockdown rules.

Cele said that the lockdown had seen murder decrease by 35.8%, sexual assault by 35.9%, rape by 40.4% and common robbery by 49.8%.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, releasing the crime statistics for the first quarter of 2020/2021, said that the lockdown had seen murder decrease by 35.8%, sexual assault by 35.9%, rape by 40.4% and common robbery by 49.8%. Picture: EWN

"The first quarter of 2020/2021 period was a much safer time to live in the country. All top 30 stations that are reporting high levels of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm recorded drops in numbers."

But it was not all rosy, as bulgaries at schools and liquor outlets had increased.

The minister said that the decrease in major crimes was largely due to abnormal circumstances such as the national lockdown period.

Cele said that all major crimes including murder, sexual offenses, and attempted murder had decreased since the lockdown started in late March to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Cele said that the latest crime stats looked as though criminals were on a “crime holiday”. He said that while the lockdown helped reduce criminal activity in the country, more lives were also saved.

“It is equally important to acknowledge that the unavailability of alcohol also had a role to play. This is evident in the decreased numbers of cases of contact crimes which plummeted by 37.4%,” Cele said.

He added: “This means there were 53,891 less cases of murder, attempted murder, assault GBH [Grievous bodily harm, Common robbery and common assault reported compared to the same reporting period.”

The minister reiterated that alcohol continued to play a huge role in crime.

“Worryingly, there has been an increased number of attacks on schools and liquor outlets during this time, with 2,692 burglaries reported at educational premises and 1,246 liquor outlets were targeted,” Cele said. “A total of 1,186 suspects have been arrested for these crimes.”

Cele said that more resources should be put into the police service in order to maintain these numbers.

“Many officers have fulfilled their constitutional obligations in the face of adversity and uncertainty. All the officers in blue who have and continue to maintain high police visibility. I want to commend you for executing your responsibility to serve and protect with excellence,” he said.

Cele said that while the ban on the sale of alcohol had lowered criminal activity, he knew that it was just a temporary measure. He said that the country needed to have a frank conversation about the role of alcohol in communities.

National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sithole said that their biggest challenge was continuing to reduce the statistics.

“The type of plan that we needed to move forward with, it’s an integrated community centred plan which includes all the parties,” he said.

The police service said the crime stats showed that a safer South Africa was possible.

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